“What’s the most important change you’d like to see in your region?” I asked the cotton farmers of ‘Pratibha - Vasudha Jaivik Krishi Kalyan Samiti’. “We wish our children could get better education and communicate in English one day,” they replied. So I trained them on Fairtrade Premium project planning, using a school project as an example.
That session is now three years back. Since then, these cotton farmers have come a long way. They saved their Fairtrade Premium and set up “Vasudha Vidya Vihar”: their own school to impart quality education to poor children from farming community. After starting in 2010 with very basic infrastructure and just a small number of children, the school now imparts quality education at a reasonable fee to 425 students from very remote villages of Karhi, Khargone district in Central India. The school now generates enough revenue to meet its operational expenses.
“So, what is the plan now?” I asked during our latest review meeting. ‘We want to develop this school up to degree college level” the farmers answered. “And what if your kids decide not to work on the farms when they are highly educated?” I ask, slightly provocatively. “They would become better farmers and apply new techniques on farms once they are educated’, is the confident reply.
The farmers are concerned that they might not have enough funds to realize this vision in the short term, due to falling Fairtrade cotton sales in their region. Nevertheless, their commitment and determination to make it happen is plain to see.
Anup Singh is a Fairtrade liaison officer in the North of India.
Many cotton farmers around the world are benefitting from Fairtrade, but struggling to get enough sales to drive bigger change in their communities. We are working on a new model for Fairtrade cotton, which will lead to allow more companies to engage with us and mean more sales for farmers. More news on this later this year!